BOOKS FICTION: Growing up with Godadaddy

CHILDREN OF DARKNESS AND LIGHT by Nicholas Mosley, Secker pounds 15.99
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
A FRIEND of mine lent her copy of Nicholas Mosley's award-winning Hopeful Monsters to someone who took it to the seaside in Spain. A sudden wave washed up on the shore and caught the book, soaking it with salt water. As the days passed and the book dried out, its pages swelled to many times their original thickness. "The book became this big," she said, holding her hands wide apart.

Children of Darkness and Light is in many important ways a kind of sequel to Hopeful Monsters. The characters, the story and the historical period are different, but the themes remain the same: of light and darkness; of good and evil; of the need to stand open to - perhaps even to cultivate - seemingly (but not really?) chance possibilities, if we are ever to find our way forward. And there is development of those themes from one book to the next. Where Max and Eleanor in Hopeful Monsters are struggling for some vision, always on the edge of darkness, the protagonists in the new novel seem just possibly to have glimpsed some light, to have embraced the darkness within themselves and to have found there the possibility of light.

This process is without formula and difficult to describe. And as Mosley struggles to write about that which cannot be said, about "certain things that are beyond language", his prose is difficult. I struggled with my own comprehension at times and had to read slowly, a bit at a time. And yet, with the finished novel several days behind me, I found its pages swelling and the experience of them became "this big". Some understanding in myself that I find hard to articulate but am grateful for swelled with them.

Children of Darkness and Light is effectively constructed as a mystery. The main protagonist is a celebrated feature writer for a national paper. He once covered a story in Yugoslavia about some children who had seen a vision of the Virgin Mary on a desolate hillside. Now his editor tells him that the Virgin has appeared to a group of children in Cumbria and asks whether he'd like to follow it up.

Are the visions real? Why do they appear to children, and especially to children who have largely given up on the adult world? Why is the Virgin sighted in such desolate places (war-torn Yugoslavia, Cumbria soiled by nuclear pollution and in the midst of a radiation scare), and why are the messages she brings always so boring? As the novel draws towards a powerful close, we are even moved to ask who the Virgin Mary is, and the understanding provided by Mosley's answer to that brings a deep "Aha!" and underlines much of what he has been trying to say.

Developing his theme that light can emerge most powerfully from situations of greatest darkness ("things have to get worse before they will get better"), Mosley juxtaposes images of damnation (mass graves, deformed children, dead landscapes) with those of possible salvation (visions of the Virgin, crosses, the glorious cycle of healing nature). In each place of desolation there are children who build gardens.

Children are the key to the book's vision. Children, with all those possibilities, who somehow, catastrophically, only become adult human beings who make such a mess of things. What if the possibilities were to mutate, or different ones to develop? What if children were to transcend adulthood, if we, their parents, were to become their children? Or better still, if we were to be both their parents and their children, helping them to help us find a better way? Then might we, "coming together and being part of a family", eat of the Tree of Life instead of that of Good and Evil? Might we be given a second, more grown-up chance at Eden? Might we find there that "old Godadaddy" who made us feel so ashamed and tell him, " Look out, we are all growing up" ?

In Children of Light and Darkness, Mosley's fiction reaches a stunning, final maturity that raises the game of the novel itself. There are echoes of The Heart of Darkness, the bodies writhing in a hell of their own making to the sound of incessant drumming, but here we have a vision that says Kurtz need not have died in the jungle saying, "The horror, the horror". He might, with a little help, have gone forward, to choose life.